Lawmakers push retirement, healthcare protection for 30,000 Steward employees

A group of U.S. lawmakers have written a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor Acting Secretary Julie Su requesting the department's support for Dallas-based Steward Health Care employees and retirees throughout the health system's bankruptcy ordeal. 

Steward filed for bankruptcy May 6 and is working to auction off its 31-hospitals and physician group, Stewardship Health. 

The June 17 letter, obtained by Becker's, was written by Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania Sen. John Fetterman, and Massachusetts Reps. Jim McGovern, Anyanna Pressley and Stephen Lynch. 

The letter details how Steward's bankruptcy has created concerns for the health system's almost 30,000 employees, including nearly 10,000 employees in Massachusetts. 

"We write to ask that the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) ensure that Steward workers and retirees receive the health care and retirement benefits to which they are entitled," the letter said. "Workers and retirees must be protected from further harm resulting from Steward’s gross financial mismanagement."

Here are 10 requests from the lawmakers regarding Steward employees and retirees:

1. The letter asked for the labor department to monitor Steward's compliance of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which ensures 60-day notices to workers should there be large company layoffs. Should employees not receive the 60-day notice, they could receive additional backpay claims in Steward's bankruptcy proceedings.

2. Ensure the continuation of benefits for Steward employees during the bankruptcy proceedings, even if there is a facility buyout of closure, along with the identification of plan administrators and retirement plan trustees. The letter also asked the department to aid in communicating the plan to affected retirees and workers in certain instances. 

3. Secure health and retirement benefit information and plan documents for all affected Steward retirees and employees.

4. Ensure that paycheck deductions are deposited into retirement plans by Steward properly. 

5. The letter requested that the department make sure Steward and its successor entity manage health and retirement benefits "safely and prudently" during the process of bankruptcy.

6. Guarantee health claims are paid during the bankruptcy process.

7.  Carry out violations of health and retirement benefits "to which workers are entitled."

8. Make sure that all of the obligations Steward must meet under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 are met, along with making sure that employees are notified within 60 days should their health plan benefits see any reduction.  

9. Advocate for the pension benefits guarantee corporation to prioritize "defined benefit pensions as creditors, where appropriate."

10. Be ready to provide more employees and employee representative support.

"Although the responsibility for this crisis rests exclusively on Steward and its corporate collaborators, a resolution to this crisis that protects workers, patients, and communities demands involvement and collaboration among federal, state, and local authorities," the letter said. "It is vital that these hospitals stay open given their importance to the communities they serve, and all options must be considered to protect the workforce that has continued to provide care while their professional futures remain uncertain."

Steward did not have a comment for Becker's at this time. 

Becker's has reached out to the U.S. Department of Labor for comment and will update this story should more information become available. 

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